Hiking in Niagara: The Search for Animal Chin Continues

James Ryan

I couldn’t tell you how I got my hernia. All I know is, I had this walnut-sized, mysterious bump in my lower abdomen, and truthfully, I didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until my regular check-up at my doctor’s office that he told me rather nonchalantly that it was a fairly common hernia – what he called a “bowel” hernia. He asked me if it caused me any discomfort, to which I answered, no. He then instructed me that if I started to feel any pain – any pain at all, that I should go to the emergency room right away. Apparently, if your hernia bulges out too far and your intestines get strangulated, it can kill you.

Uhhh . . . no thanks.

I felt great after I left Doctor Leadfoot’s office, but wouldn’t you know it? Later that same week, I started to feel a sharp, shooting pain for the very first time. It felt like I was getting stabbed with a searing hot knife and it completely freaked me out. Murphy’s frickin’ Law or what?

I went and sat downstairs and strongly debated on going straight to the hospital. I didn’t, and in hindsight, although I made the right decision, I do agree that it was probably too risky of a move on my part. Despite the pain, it didn’t seem like an emergency (in my opinion), and as time demonstrated, it wasn’t – just a sign of things to come in the approachable year as I continued to procrastinate with my own health – a definite dumb move on my part. But quite frankly, I just did not want to have to deal with a surgery in the summertime when I’m typically very busy.

It wasn’t until a local bartender battled with a similar problem, that I finally decided to do something about my own issue. After attempting to lift a keg, his walnut-sized hernia instantly swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. The result was that he was unable to work, and to add to his impending financial strain, he had to wait until he could get an appointment for his surgery, then recover from that surgery before he could possibly go back. All in all, he expected to be off from work for at least two months. Yikes, I thought. I didn’t want to be in that position, so I went home and immediately filled out the required paperwork that had already been sitting on my desk at that point for upwards of the past two months. The nearest appointment I could get into Shouldice was two months from the time when I finally replied back. And yes, I felt like an idiot for not doing it sooner.

Throughout that last year and a half before I finally got my hernia fixed, I have to admit that I was still quite active, although not as active as I would have liked given the constant discomfort to my abdomen area. Sometimes, it even radiated throughout my entire middle back. Fun-fun.

I continued on with my karate, and even with all of that vigorous kicking and punching and getting kicked and punched, it never seemed to aggravate my condition – thankfully. And oddly. I also took up longboarding over the summer. I guess you could say it was my version of a mid-life crisis (beats buying a Ferrari and poking your secretary), trying to get back to my early years as a teenager growing up in the 80’s when Big Mac, Weffrey and I used to go skateboarding all around the Bordertown brokerages. This was before anyone else had ever heard of Tony Hawk, and skateboarding became what is now a serious crime against humanity – an act of civil terrorism. The search for Animal Chin continues!

But it was in Ireland where I really pushed my luck. As a graduation gift to my son, I decided that he and I should go on a father-son trip as an ultimate adventure together before he finally goes off to join the military. We hiked almost every day, for several hours each day, including up and around the highest cliffs in all of Europe (or so I was told) – the Slieve League, near Donegal. I did all of this with frequent but manageable abdominal pain. I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity with my son for anything. I was somewhat limited in my efforts but still very capable in mind, body and spirit.

Yesterday, as I went out onto the Bruce Trail for an invigorating five hour hike, I was vividly reminded of what it was like to go hiking in Ireland with my son (who left for basic training two weeks ago). Minus the fifty shades of green, I suppose it had something to do with the softness of the mud under my boots, or the drizzle of mist on my forehead, or the cool breeze blowing through my beard – whatever it was, it took me right back into that exact same time and place. There we were, father and son, standing high on a mountain peak in Connemara National Park. Or maybe we were hiking our way through the treacherously steep Wicklow Mountains not but twenty feet from an entire family of wild deer. Or maybe doing yoga, meditation and pushups on the highest cliffs overlooking the entire Atlantic Ocean. Whatever it was, or wherever we managed to go, I was reminded of it yesterday.

As I hiked along, I reminisced about all of the time that my son and I had spent out on the Bruce Trail together when he was growing up from a young boy to a young man. Hiking for us was a simple way to reconnect with each other. To discuss worldly issues. To talk about school or work or sports. Or to unplug for a little while and enjoy the great outdoors. To just say nothing and enjoy each other’s company.

Oh and I also went hiking on Saturday, and was very pleased to come across multiple families with small children. A few of them anyway. I was happy to see them out there teaching and communicating with their kids, but I was also surprised and saddened that I didn’t see more of them. The weather was practically perfect and it was the Saturday at the start of March Break. There was literally no reason at all not to be outside.

Parents – get your kids out on these trails. Teach them about respecting nature. About being safe. About getting their hands dirty. Their clothes muddy. About the reward of a strong work ethic and the fun of an unknown adventure. Teach them how to use common sense. Teach them about life. To think for themselves. To problem solve. Get them away from the goddamned television. Or those ultra-real, ultra-violent video games. Or just whatever – let your kids hang out with you and get a little exercise in the process. And if you’re lucky, your children might continue to hike as an integral part of their fitness lifestyle for the rest of their hopefully happy and healthy lives.

By the way, after I got home from my hike to Balls Falls yesterday, I received a text message from my son telling me that everything was going great at his basic training. He said that they work non-stop and barely have time to eat or sleep. He told me that his platoon is filled of a bunch of really good guys and he’s received the majority of the high scores on all the physical challenges thus far. He also said that he popped a big blister across his whole finger tip yesterday. He didn’t say how he got it but I’m guessing it’s his trigger finger.

Anyway, hiking is fun, but so are the memories that it can conjure up every time you put one boot in front of the other. It keeps you connected with nature, but it also keeps you connected with those you love, even when they can’t always be there with you.

Get hiking, Niagara! And don’t forget to take care of your health.

Hope to see you out on those trails real soon.


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James Ryan
James Ryan


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